We all know that fresh foods are healthy…but what about the packaged stuff like rice, cake mixes, and yogurt? As of 2005, most food manufacturers in Canada are required to include nutrition information on their food labels. The "Nutrition Facts" label includes info on calories and 13 nutrients: Fat, Saturated fat, Trans fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Carbohydrate, Fibre, Sugars, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. It also includes a list of food ingredients. Whether you want to compare products, control portion sizes, manage allergies or other food restrictions, or amp up your intake of certain nutrients, knowing how to read the "Nutrition Facts" label is essential to making informed food choices. Read on to get our quick and easy guide to reading food labels.
Specific Amount of Food tells you how the data on the label is related to a portion size. Portions are expressed in household familiar quantities (e.g., "2 slices") and metric units (e.g.,"? cup"). When comparing food labels, make sure you are comparing the values based on the same portion size.
% Daily Value lets you know how the product can fit into a healthy daily diet as recommended by the Canada Food Guide. Using a scale of 0-100%, the label breaks down how much of certain nutrients (calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron) are available in the recommended serving size. This table makes it easy for shoppers to compare products.
Like the % daily value table, the Core Nutrients table contains information about calories, iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, protein, sugar, fibre, carbohydrate, sodium, cholesterol, trans fat, saturated fat, and fat. Unlike the % Daily Value table, the info in the Core Nutrients profile is given in metric units (e.g., 2 grams of fat), not in percentages.
Claims such as "source of fibre", "low fat", "cholesterol free", "sodium free", "reduced in calories" and "light" are all based on guidelines established by the Government of Canada using recommended nutrition information in the Canada Food Guide. The claims can highlight a feature of the product such as "low fat" that is of interest to shoppers who want to make healthy choices.
The following is a list of popular claims and what they mean:
- Source of Fibre: the food contains at least 2 grams of dietary fibre in the amount of food specified in the Nutrition Facts table.
- Low Fat: the food contains no more than 3 grams of fat in the amount of food specified in the Nutrition Facts table. According to the Canada Food Guide, the recommended range for fat intake is approximately one third of total calories.
- Cholesterol-free: the food has a negligible amount of cholesterol (less than 2 mg of cholesterol in the amount of food specified in the Nutrition Facts table) and it is also low in saturated fat and trans fat.
- Sodium-free: "Free" is an amount of a nutrient so small that nutritionists consider it non-existent. "Sodium-free" means the amount of food specified in the Nutrition Facts table contains less than 5 mg of >sodium.
- Reduced in Calories: the food has at least 25% fewer calories than the food it is being compared to (for example, the original version of the product).
- Light: foods are either "reduced in fat" or "reduced in energy" (Calories). "Light" can also be used to describe other characteristics of a food (e.g., light tasting, light coloured). So read this claim carefully!
- List of Ingredients: On Canadian food labels, ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. The ingredients present in the greatest amount in a product are listed first (e.g., if "strawberries" is first on the ingredients list, the product has more strawberries than any other ingredient). This allows shoppers to quickly compare similar products and to choose foods that are low in certain ingredients, making it a must-read for shoppers with allergies or other food restriction.